How might I create sanity? Sweep aside dusty pessimism and infatuation with the negative? I first must do it to my own soul, of course, but the things I create with my hands have minds of their own, my control relinquished after a certain point in time.
Consequently, how do I manufacture beauty? There’s a loaded sentence; it implies force, as if the viewers of my work have no choice but to see my piece and label it, “BEAUTIFUL”, with screaming capital letters and exclamation points appearing over their heads. It calls up the idea of Utopia, how societies have desired for years to achieve perfection in relationships and social order. Should I be attempting to create Utopia in my art? Doesn’t forced fulfillment create soul-crushing rules that are plastic-wrapped tightly around the hearts of those I wish to influence? I suppose it is at this point in my artistic process (when I start to gain a humongous head and envision I have magical power to actually force anything upon my viewers) that the process itself is taken away from me.
I am not at all in control. Clearly, there are elements of life that have never been and will never be within each individual person’s realm of authority. Who passes whom on the street each day cannot be plotted. One can try to boast infinite clarity, but they will soon be blasted down into the massive crater whence their terrible pride originated. I forget this very fact so easily, attempting to control the fundamental nature of the pieces I create. This piece will, ideally, serve as a reminder that I have never been, and will never be, the artist of my own creations.
Illness Theodicies Reflection (2014)
Initial reflection of this article by Robert M. Price, and John 9.
John 9 tells the story of a man who was blind from birth. His parents, friends, and neighbors all asked questions of God: what did he do wrong to deserve this? Did someone else’s folly bring this fate on him? Did he inherit sin from his parents? Then, most of all, how could God have let this happen to him? In the story, Jesus heals the man, and the religious people go on to accuse Jesus of being a sinner and a threat for performing miracles on the Sabbath. The formerly-blind man reasons to the authorities that God doesn’t listen to sinners, so Jesus could not do what he had done if he were not from God. Granted, if you reason this out logically, Jesus could have been sent from the devil or performing witchcraft, but he claimed he was from God, and that, in addition to breaking the Pharisees’ rules, put him in their crosshairs. Jesus then confirms his identity to the man with new sight, revealing that he “came into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (9:39).
None of this is fair. I speak as one of the family or friends of the blind man; my loved one was blind, and now he sees, but only because Jesus decided he needed to prove a point that I don’t yet understand. I can even see the Pharisees’ position. They lived their whole lives under the assumption that following a certain set of rules laid out in the scriptures would grant them closeness to God. Jesus’s flagrant disregard for these rules (mainly, Sabbath day being kept sacred) would certainly lead me to believe he were not only sinning, but part of something quite sinister. I would want him gone; I wouldn’t believe his miracles.
In hindsight, this chapter begins to make sense, but only after much investigation and confusion. Robert M. Price’s article, “Illness Theodicies in the New Testament”, cites John 9 (particularly verses 1-5) as the hinge on which many varying conclusions swing, most surrounding the question, “why did this happen to me?” The article seeks to investigate how the New Testament handles the topic of illness within the study of theodicy (questioning how a good God could permit evil in the world). Such theories as God’s questionable omnipotence (all-powerfulness), illness as punishment, karma, reincarnation, fairness of punishment, and unclear human standards are investigated, all drawn from scripture (in or out of context).
We Are Angry (2014)
Tell me I have no attention span.
Tell me my generation sucks.
Tell me we’re bringing the whole world down and have nothing to contribute.
Tell me that, then charge me buckets of money to go to the schools you developed and the programs you want me to take over.
We are angry. You cannot devalue us. I will work just as hard or little no matter what you think of me.
Want Not (2014)
I wrote this in the beginning stages of a process: “The shy must flee or adapt. You can no longer simply go to view art; you must be a part of it. Be asked to remove your shoes, be fed a full meal, or participate in an out-of-the-blue political conversation. They’re almost all political, and they’re expecting you to bring your best words. Even though you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. This is because their art depends on you, the sample participant. You are expected to become the art piece, participating in making it what it is. Just as Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” was art simply because he called it that, social art is art because the people doing it call themselves artists.”
Here are the reasons I cannot continue with this type of manifesto built around my art: my art is not me, and others are asking me to become it. That, I cannot give them, or feel I cannot give them. I can give them half-truths and last minute attempts that they will call real, because they choose, because I must force them. I can tell how in the real world I cannot keep on creating art because I am not this person who lives in front of bright bright lights: I live behind blankets and dim screens, hoping the person walking by will take their gaze off of me. I am chronically introverted, shy. I cannot continue to make myself who I am not. Blight of the world: a person who wants to be forever a part of the social and lacks the ability to realize the necessary graces. I have been told to do what I want: that’s not always realistic. I mention this, because it often feels I do not have the ability to pull off what I want in my deepest heart. I suppose I have the physical possibility; therefore, I actually do not have an excuse. But I hope I am understood- I do not have the mental ability.
Where do other people find their mental ability? How is it possible they have motivation and strength to continue without some otherworldly force? I feel it’s a miracle every time I work up the effort necessary. It’s as if I’m arriving above this sharp glass ceiling and my head is so full of clouds I cannot comprehend, and I am suddenly falling back down into the muck. Either way, it’s a cloud. I fake comprehension and apparently it’s enough: I act. I act out of adrenaline and honeymoon phases. It’s a love affair with my ideas, soon to fade. Fade because I have no motivation. Where can I find that? I am entrenched. Dug deep in my routines, my numbingly blind constant view of television and blank stares, I entwine myself with plots that don’t matter and characters that don’t exist. Where am I without God? Logically, I am nowhere. I am either in hurt or bliss, and I cannot ever find the constant comfort that still allows me to produce anything. I become complacent, and I forget. I forget every single day, second, every important word. I cannot do anything on my own.
I can continue to be inspired by the only things I have seen to work. Things that are far far far beyond me. I am not at all worthy to be creating art that is beyond me.
I’ll tell a story, because that’s all I can continue with right now. I found out a few years ago that sex trafficking happens in Seattle a lot. It’s because of the ports, I-5, and international traveling. I attended a training day for an organization called Real Escape from the Sex Trade, where they gave me psychological evidence that shows how young people’s brains develop, not that I needed proof to understand trading a person’s sexuality for money is wrong. I can assume it will screw them up in the future. I’m screwed up from seemingly nothing, seemingly an overemotional tendency and a social silence, so I can’t even imagine worse. I’m lost in this world where people ignore the facts. Fine, they can think what they want. But, I’m part of this “privileged group” that knows the truth. My Christian faith is a struggle, one I am asked directly by the Bible to share. Well, this world really hates that. The Pope just got TIME people of the year award for saying some encouraging things about gay people being allowed to marry. Sure, he’s being nice, but he’s totally ignoring the Bible: God hates those who defy him, not because they deserve hate, but because that defiance pushes them farther away from him, and all he wants is to be near. It’s like missing your lover so much you hate them for being away. The truth is we’re living in this broken world, and I feel like I am only at the beginning of riding out a storm. Sure, I’m excited about what’s to come. I get to live a life protected by God. Then again, I get to make almost everyone I meet uncomfortable when they find out I believe they’ll go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus.
So, after my lengthy sidetrack, here’s more of the story. I did a lot of research on sex trafficking. I read horrific stories of girls being held against their will blocks away from their families, unable to leave. I recalled news stories like Elizabeth Smart, brainwashed into thinking she was an entirely different person after she was certainly old enough to remember who she was. I saw the media coverage of people who considered themselves “happy hookers”, or the kind of people who start organizations advocating for the sexuality and right of humans to buy whatever they want, as long as it didn’t harm another. Yikes, harm is a horribly subjective word. My psychiatrist prescribed me antidepressants because I fit criteria for clinical depression. If that’s based on emotions, could they prescribe a medicine for rape victims to forget what happened? Those sentences don’t fit, and I can’t find a way to say what I want. But it carries gravity to me; the fact that I have nothing to do with these women who are forced into prostitution, but everything to do with it at the same time. It’s beyond curiosity. It’s a connection to every human being through God. Like the Pablo Neruda poem, “so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep,” I’m close to all people. That’s a love poem, and this is a slightly desperate call to God: please help me communicate in this universe. I legitimately feel tongue tied when it comes to telling the truth. This is all far too honest, I hope I look back later and realize I need to be this honest all the time despite what anyone says. I’m already distantly loved by many, legitimately loved by a few. It’s better to be honestly hated by those who previously distantly loved me, if it’s for the sake of avoiding that lukewarm kind of existence. Anyway, God would rather have us hate him than partially love him for our made up version of who he’s not. He said so in Revelations.
Alright, now I’ll talk about art again. The kind of art I have stumbled into —this social practice— falls heavy on the shoulders of those who find themselves in it. Articles talk about the social artist as one who must facilitate awareness and activism within a phenomenon. They must be knowledgeable of politics, they must be smart and willing to organize and field questions. Suzanne Lacy spent years persuading activists, influential women, average people, and others to come talk about hot button women’s-issue topics on the stoops of a Brooklyn neighborhood. Her project, “Between the Door and the Street,” turned out thousands of participants and further changed the way we define art. In addition, artists like this must be able to defend themselves and also to blend into the crowd’s answers so as to remain legitimate.
They must not hold anything over their participants or ask them to respond to a conviction. It must remain a person-less experience. The participant may gain personal growth, but their self must not interfere with the work. If this happens, it must be acknowledged and will change the work entirely. Jean Houston in her article “Social Artistry” throws around words like “empower” and “understanding” to place artists in the mediator role. Artists really are the ultimate mediators, volunteering their services in communicating the most difficult subjects in the most convoluted ways. To her, they are a new kind of hero.
A question for God: does my interest in social art mean I wish to become a hero? When I search my heart, I know I wish to be acknowledged and loved. I also thoroughly wish to be praised. I think it’s true. My motivations for making social art come not from raising awareness for the distressed, but from bringing potential glory to good old me. Are artists glory seekers? Attention mongers? This would be easy to believe.
Duchamp called “Fountain” art because he wanted to. Thus, it became art. The second that happened, I gained the freedom to call whatever I do art, thus my education, artistic pursuit, and understanding is all built on the fact that “I WANT.” Then again, if “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall NOT want,” (Psalm 23:1).
I won’t ever feel fully legitimate as an artist. This is not some backwards attempt to have others tell me I am indeed legitimate and praiseworthy. It is an acceptance that I will never be able to produce something so beautiful as a human emotion. I will never recreate the bond between man and wife, between parent and child, between Father and Son. No, the aim is not to recreate perfection, but I would be ashamed if I came anywhere close to trying that. And that is, sadly, where I often find myself: grasping at unattainable perfection using my own weak weak weak muscles.
I hope my story finds some home in your mind. I hope my honesty makes its way to your heart and not your throat, scratching as you swallow it down.
Physical Effect of the Senses (2013)
"Today, I insist on a similar kind of spatio-sensory holism, where art can challenge and change societies by instantiating different relations to the world, where actions and consequences matter; art takes seriously the space-producing abilities of our bodies. It prompts us to re-evaluate the value systems according to which we measure ourselves and our surroundings; it insists on friction and difference." -Olafur Eliasson from "Your Gravitational Now"
Artists create their own space. Whether adding to an existing location or physically building an area, they are assuming ownership of a set of ideas and items. From Eliasson and Bourriaud’s “From Relational Aesthetics”, I feel the tug of war game that goes on between sense of existing place and creation. The biggest point that resonated with me from both articles was the human interaction with space and the degree to which the viewer creates this experience for themselves. I am fascinated by the idea that the artist doesn’t always succeed in planting the exact essence of their thoughts into their work, therefore falsely translating what they are trying to communicate to their viewers. Bourriaud had a lot of interesting thoughts on the state of art throughout time periods. He argued that contemporary art encapsulated a different plot than modernist art; forms need to be new for the sake of a growing and new society, rather than new just for the sake of being new. He pointed out the connection between society’s politics, actions, etc. and the art that coexists. Along the same vein, Eliasson emphasized the choices we make to accept something as existing. The societal game we are playing acts like a funnel sending experiences straight into our heart and out through our artwork.
Dear God (2013)
A letter to God telling the story of Aaron’s proposal.
My hands were so cold, God. That’s all I was thinking. I was happy- am happy- and my hands were cold. I was late. Four minutes late, and I rushed thinking we would miss a ferry or cruise or whatever he had planned. The chocolate smoothie I brought him warped my fingertips and I longed to hand it off. Simultaneously sipping my own drink and stumbling up to him, I recognized an Aaron effort if I’ve ever seen one: horse-drawn carriage, complete with cowboy hat-clad woman to drive it. The horse was a large brown beauty content to roam the streets around the waterfront in rush hour traffic, blocking loved ones anxious to get home to their sweethearts on Valentine’s Day. We pulled into the oncoming cars and they quickly stacked up behind. I could have passed us ten times over on my bike, perturbed, rushing confusedly by the immense quadruped. But I was forced to face my fears of confrontation and center-of-attention cheesiness that Aaron so loves to embrace. I had fun. I normally wouldn’t have fun. I don’t consider that an extremely original date. But then he gave me a rose. We sat in the bouncing carriage. He handed me a card. We stopped. He told me to close my eyes- he had a surprise. I stepped out of the carriage, anxiously closing my eyes, waiting to go feed the horse carrots. I had no idea. And then his voice came from lower than usual, “Keep them closed!”
"Okay, open.” There was a small crowd of half-interested people, smartphones in hand, filming or snapping photos. The carriage driver clicked away on Aaron’s iphone as he pulled out the ring, down on one knee.
"Will you marry me?” I stared, shocked. I had seen the ring in his phone photos, a beautiful mock up giving him away. A ruby and two small diamonds originally on a ring he got in Thailand and now re-purposed on a simple silver band. Graceful. Stunning. I didn’t know he would do it so soon. We talked about it last Sunday with Jeff and Theresa- life doesn’t have to mean fast timing and “meant-to-be”s. It’s just God’s timing. God’s timing and grace. I had stopped looking at pinterest wedding photos and well lit engagement shoots. I had resigned myself to the fact that I don’t have to be looking forward to something in a relationship for it to be worth my devotion and complete affection. So, of course, that’s when God put it on Aaron’s heart to ask me.
Apparently after I drove him home in Ashley’s little Plymouth with no power steering last Sunday night, he stared at the wall for 30 minutes marveling. He had just woken up and realized this was the way he needed to show me it wasn’t all words. His love and appreciation for me wasn’t all, “Thank you,” and “You’re so amazing for hanging in there”. The Bible even says it, “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I wish I could say I reacted differently.
We all have preconceptions of how or if we want things to go. I thought that conversation with the Bettgers meant I had a free pass and didn’t have to worry about the judgment I would get from my peers and friends for getting engaged so young. That’s a horrible reason not to do something. God, you work through absolutely everything. Even, or should I say especially, when we are at our most vulnerable. I was terrified when I saw Aaron down on his knee. He looked so nervous and expectant. The brass band of panic in my head resounded with clangs of terror and dread for having to tell him how reluctant I was to accept. But then something inside of me said yes.
“Yes.” Yes. I just said yes to marrying someone. Marrying Aaron McConnell. I said yes on the waterfront, Pier 55, in front of Major the horse and underneath the shroud of misty Seattle stars. My knees turned to rubber. We walked toward the restaurant he picked out, The Fisherman, looking out on the Ferris wheel where we went on our first date. I cried when he told me the story of the ring. I cried when he told me my parents gave him permission. That wouldn’t have happened without lots of prayer.
It’s not about me. It’s about the love story You’re creating for both Aaron and me, God. None of this is about how I feel, what kind of fairy tale I think I deserve, or how I’ve scripted it in my head. It’s YOU, God. Only you could change my heart and only you could comfort me with the timing and gentleness I’ve come to appreciate so much in You.